We are writing to express our deep concern about recent actions and statements by Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a large evangelical Anglican church in Surrey. Rev Sizer is also an IVP-published author and a frequent guest speaker in churches and theological colleges. We write with sadness, after carefully assessing the evidence, and having noted Don Carson’s recent advice in the journal Themelios, on when it is appropriate to criticise fellow believers publicly.
Our letter makes strong claims. They are substantiated, with internet links to primary sources, at https://wwedletter.wordpress.com/.
This June, Rev. Sizer spoke at a conference run by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM). We consider VPM to be an extremist group, on the basis that Matthias Chang, an activist given a leadership role within the organisation, has sought to justify the Holocaust, arguing, ‘Germany … had the right to defend herself against the Zionists’ agenda to annihilate Germany and her citizens.’ (He was speaking at a 2006 Iranian Holocaust denial conference, described by Tony Blair as ‘shocking beyond belief.’) Judging by Rev. Sizer’s own blog, he did nothing to oppose or correct such views while the guest of VPM. Rather, he seems only to have confirmed his hosts in their extremism. In an interview with The Star newspaper he said of the US Congress, ‘The Israel lobby buys every single politician.’ This untrue statement is unworthy of any Christian, let alone a Christian leader. In another interview, on Malaysian TV, he repeated that false claim and also stated, ‘The Far Right in Britain is forming an alliance with Zionists because their common enemy are the Muslims … the EDL for example are now working with the Zionists against the Muslims because they view them as a threat.’ Needless to say, every pro-Israel group in Britain has distanced itself from the English Defence League. What was Rev. Sizer seeking to achieve by making this false claim about British Zionist hostility towards Muslims, in a TV interview in a Muslim country? In a separate video interview, he agreed with a VPM activist’s call for a boycott of McDonalds, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestlé, on the extraordinary basis that they ‘channel their profits to the Zionist agenda.’ These are all publicly listed companies, open to any investor, which pay their profits to shareholders through dividends. We cannot imagine any other evangelical pastor endorsing this allegation or promoting this boycott. We invite readers to evaluate Rev. Sizer’s conduct in Malaysia in the light of Titus 2:7-8: ‘In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.’
Sadly, Rev. Sizer’s activity in Malaysia was in keeping with his track record. Also on his blog are thirty-one photographs of Israeli soldiers, including individuals in close-up, each titled, ‘Herod’s soldiers operating in Bethlehem today.’ To grasp how inflammatory this is, imagine a Northern Irish clergyman making a similar comment about British troops during the Troubles. Should such a clergyman have been allowed to continue in church leadership? When Rev. Sizer was interviewed on Iranian TV, he argued that as a result of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, ‘the Holocaust has been perpetuated over the past forty or fifty years.’ During the Holocaust, the Nazis systematically murdered every Jewish person within their reach. We cannot imagine any other evangelical pastor claiming that Israel is acting in a comparable way towards the Palestinians. Again, what was Rev. Sizer seeking to achieve by making such a claim about Israel on Iranian TV? In Titus 3:1-2, Paul says, ‘Remind the people … to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility towards all men.’ We consider the above statements by Rev. Sizer to be slander of the most serious kind.
Rev. Sizer has visited Iran as the guest of Zahra Mostafavi, the daughter of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Dr Mostafavi supports the proscribed terrorist organisation Hezbollah, and has publicly paid tribute to Palestinian women and girls who have carried out suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians. Of course, Dr Mostafavi and other supporters of terrorism need to hear the gospel. Perhaps Rev. Sizer accepted her invitation to Iran with that motivation. But it’s not hard to imagine how ordinary Israelis would react when a church leader who has accused them of a five-decade holocaust fraternises with an advocate of suicide bombers sent to murder their people. Someone with a record like Rev. Sizer’s cannot work alongside someone like Dr Mostafavi without bringing discredit on the name of Jesus and our evangelical community. There are surely other ways in which Zahra Mostafavi might hear the gospel. Serious questions have already been raised about Rev. Sizer by secular observers and by the British Jewish community. It cannot be a good testimony to either group that British evangelicals are leaving his conduct and statements unchallenged. Unless our community takes action, the reputation of British evangelicalism will be damaged. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3, ‘the overseer must be above reproach … he must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace’ (3:2,7).
We welcome debate on Arab-Israeli issues. However, we believe Rev. Sizer’s comments and actions cannot be regarded as acceptable contributions. We note his willingness, in other contexts, to make much more even-handed comments; sadly, we can only conclude that he says one thing to one audience and very different things to another. Both of the writers of this letter have corresponded with Rev. Sizer in the past, making similar points to those expressed above. As already stated, we are not alone. Yet he has continued in the same vein, and has shown a tendency to avoid answering specific objections.
British Evangelicals know how to react when a pastor denies the substitutionary nature of the atonement, embezzles church funds or commits adultery. We believe Rev. Sizer’s long track record of very harmful untruths and slander should be treated in the same way. The political context provides no excuse for such behaviour. On top of this, Rev. Sizer’s close working relationship with Zahra Mostafavi has plainly brought Jesus’ name into disrepute. Our view is that Rev. Sizer should step aside from his position as vicar of Christ Church to give his PCC the time and space to investigate these matters. We also call on evangelical leaders (particularly evangelical Anglicans) to galvanise this process, if Rev Sizer does not step aside of his own volition.